A college-age poet once wrote, “Christmas has no meaning and its message is a loss, if you fail to see the manger overshadowed by the cross.” And so we wonder: What did the Creator see when he entered his creation?
I have brought you glory on the earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
The sun had set. The stars were out. The night had turned cold.
A young man paces and waits, bends close to his young wife, brushes the hair from her forehead, speaks to her in reassurance and tenderness, and he paces and waits.
The contractions are now stronger and closer together. The young girl knows something already of the pain of childbirth. All her energy is focused on one thing: the birth of her son. In that great and ageless mystery, her body knows it is time, knows that he is ready, and without her even willing it, her body begins the process—squeezing the infinite God down, out, into his finite Creation.
We know what the innkeeper said that night of Christ’s birth: “There is no room.”
We know what the angels said: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
We know what the shepherds said: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Had the infant Christ been able to frame his thoughts in words we could comprehend, what would he have said? What would he have wanted to communicate that night of his birth? We know this, too—figuratively, at least—for it is recorded in Scripture.
When Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, “Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.”
It is not that the newborn Christ somehow confided in the Father that night of the incarnation. But this was his mind, his attitude, as he willingly entered the world. His life was self-sacrifice from his first breath—and from the ages before.
And we are told:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.
This gives remarkable insight into the attitude of Christ and the awareness of what awaited him as he stepped through the wall of time, entering a moment. The one who inhabits eternity was willing to inhabit the binding sphere of time, a fixed point in history. To do that, to somehow confine himself to time and space, required a body. That body was fragile, easily broken. Brokenness, in fact, was his destiny and he knew it, and he stepped toward it, purposefully, lovingly.
Christ knew his body was a gift from the Father and, in turn, that body became Christ’s return gift to the Father. Because Christ acquiesced to the Father’s will, because he was pleased to give that sacrifice, though it cost him everything, it is now possible for me to know and do the Father’s will.
What was it like to walk through Creation and know you had fashioned it? To see a sunset and know it was your artistry? To see people in the crowded marketplace and know they had breath because breath was your gift to them? To step onto the sea and know it would hold you, because natural law was something you authored, not something that bound you? To look at the Milky Way and know those flaming suns had been flung into space, twirling off of your fingertips? To feel the stab of excruciating pain and know you were about to die to destroy death and suffering, to dry every human tear and to dispel every mortal fear?
What was it like to inhabit eternity, then create time, then enter the stream of human history?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether throne or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.
God laid down a bridge between time and eternity. A bridge of bone that could be broken, of muscle that could be torn, of skin that could be pierced. A fragile bridge, which, paradoxically, could never be destroyed.
Jesus is that bridge.
And even the beginning was not the beginning, just as the end will not be a finale, but rather a ceaseless encore. The dawn of forever.
I know the Creator, because I know Jesus. I know the Father, because Christ has revealed him. I see the Lord’s glory, because Christ is its out-shinng.
The Lord’s glory was revealed in who he was and in how he lived. People saw the character of the Son and knew the nature of God. This is what people were looking at when they saw Jesus, whether they knew it or not.
But now, turn the question around: When Jesus looked, what did he see? As he moved through his Creation, observing things, what captured his attention? Beggars and paralytics, blind men and deaf mutes, the high and mighty, the low and broken, sinners and self-righteous. As he moved toward the climax of his life—his final work, his final night, the moment of self-sacrifice—what did Jesus see?
What did Jesus see? What did he see there, at the table that final earthly night, there with that small group of friends, the inner circle of his followers?
The events of the coming hours weighed on his mind—so much so that within a few hours it would drive him to an intensity of sorrow the world had never known. Never before or since. It would press him into an intensity of intercession never before experienced. Never before and not since. He so wrestled with the will of God and the fate of the coming hours that his sweat came as great drops of blood. Yet, with all this in mind, he reclined at the meal with his friends and he saw. Beyond himself and his concerns and his impending grief, he saw.
What did he see? As his gaze went from Peter to James to John and Philip and Andrew … and Judas. What did he see?
In the garden, alone with the 11, alone with the three, alone with the Father, alone with the agony that had already descended on him, he saw. It is remarkable that he met Judas, his betrayer, with the word, “friend.” “Friend,” he said, “why have you come?” It is astounding that he did so, when it was this man who hastened the sorrow that overwhelmed him in the garden, and the hours of grief and excruciating pain that now awaiting him.
Peter raised his sword, but it fell on the guard. Why did it not fall on Judas, the betrayer? Was this due, in part, to the perplexing way Jesus had greeted the son of perdition? Earlier in the evening, Jesus had said, “One of you will betray me.” Judas was among those who asked, “Lord, is it I?” And though Jesus had replied, “What you do, do quickly,” and though Judas immediately went out into the night, Peter and the others did not suspect him. They knew he was the treasurer of that small band, and they assumed he was having to run an errand for Jesus. So consistent was Jesus in his kindness toward the man, that he was not suspected. Peter did not comprehend it, but he saw something of how Jesus saw the man.
What did Jesus see en route to certain death? Imagine the confusion, the turmoil, the cacophony of voices, the swirl and jostle, the press of people, the smell of sweat and the fatigue. Yet Jesus saw.
He saw a denier. Peter slinking in the shadows of the dawn. He had stayed up all night, had stood at the outer edge of the rebellion, and then, finally, came the denial, the denial, the cursing denial. And Jesus saw him: Peter the confessor—“You are the Christ,” Peter the sword-wielding warrior, Peter the denier. “Satan has desired you,” Jesus had told him, “to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed.” He prayed for Peter, and now their eyes met and Peter burned with shame.
Jesus saw a crowd—surrounding him, pressing him, taunting him. Psalm 22, the Messianic psalm that foreshadows the crucifixion, describes the crowd like a pack of dogs. In that maelstrom of hate, Jesus saw.
Did he just take in the panoramic sweep of the mob? Or did his eyes fall on individuals? Were there people in that crowd who would later remember that look? Who would see Jesus, again and again, in their nightmares and in their sleeplessness?
What did he see in the count room of compromise? The Scriptures declared his love of justice—justice and mercy—but these judicial chambers had become the fall of compromise, a place of evil, a room of bloodshed. And Jesus saw.
He saw a judge, swayed by jealous, lying accusers. A judge distracted by his own inflated sense of self-importance. A judge who could have no power at all, except it were given him from above. And Pilate had no clue. He was aware of the eyes of Jesus—doubtless, he would never forget them. But did he have any comprehension at all of what those eyes saw—what Jesus perceived when he looked into the soul of a weakling convinced of his own strength?
And Jesus saw an executioner. In unimaginable agony, he is thrown to the rocky ground. And though the flesh of his back had been torn open by the repeated beatings, though his back resembled a road map, so marked as it was by welts and open wounds, even so that bleeding back was dragged across the splintered timbers. His arms were stretched wide, though white-hot pain shot through torn muscle. A spike was positioned at the wrist, a hammer raised … and the Lord looked into the face of his executioner.
Was that man’s eyes hardened by this business-as-usual task? Were his eyes vacant and soul-less?
The eyes of Christ squint shut in pain, but then they open, and he sees the man. He feels the strength of his arms, the calluses on his hands as they hold him down. He feels his breath, hears his labored breathing, notes every line and pore in the man’s face.
In that moment, Jesus saw the man who was bringing death, the soldier, doing his job, the executioner, who himself had life because it is given by the man whose life he is now taking. The soldier inhales, oblivious that the air that fills his lungs is offered by the Creator, lying so vulnerable beneath him. His heart beats, the involuntary impulse of this complex and wondrous body, devised and created by the man who now winces as the hammer falls once again.
What did Jesus see, alone, in the crowd, on the hill? Sweat and blood run down his face, burn his eyes, blur his vision. Yet he sees. What does he see?
He sees a thief, who mocks, then believes, then pleads for remembrance. Do you realize how astounding it is that this man believes? He is not responding to a miracle. He is not awed by some eloquent teaching. No, he sees Jesus in absolute powerlessness, weakness, shame, agony—and yet is drawn, held by the strength of the Lord who shares the same experience of death.
Jesus turns his head, sees the man of such unlikely faith, and bestows the gift of hope—hope and gentle mercy.
He sees a mother, his mother, and anticipates her loneliness and need—the emptiness that will engulf her before darkness falls that Friday in Jerusalem. He sees her need and though death is near, he meets it. He embraces her the only way he can, with his eyes—his eyes and his dying voice, “Woman, behold your son.”
He sees a friend, and sees in him the kindness and compassion that will mark him forever as “The Apostle of Love.” Years from now, love will be the theme of his letters. And historians tell us it was the theme of his sermons, even in old age. It is to this man, John, who will overflow with the love of God, that Jesus entrusts the care of his mother. This, Jesus sees from the cross.
And then there is the Father.
What does Jesus see? He looks for the eyes of his Father, but darkness shrouds the landscape. For the first time since the dawn of being, the Father is hidden from his view. Jesus is forsaken.
He cannot see the Father, but he sees you.
He sees who you are, and he sees what you can become. He sees what you will most certainly become if he leaves the cross and saves himself. And he sees what you will become if he is faithful, if he drinks the cup of his Father’s wrath, if he allows these nails to hold him—to hold him till the end, till at last he can cry, “It is finished!” till at last he can sigh that final breath and dismiss his spirit.
All this he sees.
What did Jesus see?
He saw the hateful, who murdered the prophets, who crucified the Lord of glory, who treat the least, the frail, the forgotten with dismissiveness or disdain.
He saw the indifferent, preoccupied with trivia, with comfort, with pleasure or with pain, but with no time to ponder the bigger questions, and with no inclination to feed the soul.
He saw the confused, swept along by human opinion, distracted by their own preconceived notions—those who fully expect what God never intends.
He saw the doubtful, wavering and wondering, and sometimes hoping.
He saw the indecisive, sure, but skittish.
He saw the grief-striken, numbed by life’s crueler gifts.
He saw the convinced, certain against all odds, and acting on that certainty—“Yes, there is a God.”
What did Jesus see, as sorrow engulfed him, as pain pressed in on him, as death approached to claim him? What did Jesus see?
He saw joy.
Jesus found joy in the absolute darkest of human experience. He not only walked through the valley of the shadow of death, he endured the eclipse of the Father’s care. Yet he found cause for joy that sustained him.
What was that joy?
He saw the joy of redemption. He saw what his death would accomplish. He saw that there was no other avenue to forgiveness. He saw heaven populated by those who would believe. He saw you, and he could not contain his joy.
He saw the joy of restoration. He saw that death would be reversed, that pain would be obliterated, that sickness would die. He saw that justice would rise, that mercy would be known, that the law of God would be written on our hearts. And he was ecstatic.
He saw the joy of reunion. He saw the gates of heaven swing open on their hinges. He saw the Father, running to meet him. He heard the roar of heaven’s applause. He saw you, reunited with your mother or your daughter. He saw friends separated by death, together again. He saw saints who had never met, embracing, in tears, like the brothers and sisters that they are.
All this he saw as the outcome of his own obedience, the reward of his own faithfulness, the fruit of his own pain. And he gladly, joyfully, endured the depths of grief and agony we will never fathom.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men that you will not grow weary or lose heart.
Scripture quotations and allusions